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Saturday, 9 September, 2000, 01:32 GMT 02:32 UK
Lost Mayan palace found in Guatemala
The ruins of Can Cuen
Can Cuen dates back to the eighth century
By the BBC's Peter Greste in Mexico City

Archaeologists in Guatemala say they have found an ancient palace which is forcing scholars to reconsider their ideas about the Mayan civilisation, which was prevalent before the arrival of the Spanish in Central America.

Mayan cities were in a constant state of war with their structures dedicated to the Gods in heaven. Now we've discovered something exactly the opposite

Mayan hieroglyphics expert Frederico Fahsen
The archaeologists stumbled across the ruins while carrying out excavations at the ruins of a city in the northern highlands of Guatemala known as Can Cuen.

The limestone building, which dates from the eighth century, has more than 170 rooms arranged around 11 courtyards.

Experts say the elaborate nature of the palace suggests it was actually built during a time of peace and relative economic stability when it had been thought that most cities in the area were at war with one another.

Trading centre

Archaeologists have known about Can Cuen for almost 100 years.

The ruins of Can Cuen
Excavation of the city may take up to 10 years
Recently discovered references to Can Cuen's importance as a trading centre forced researchers to look more closely at the site.

Archaeologist Arthur Demares, from the Vanderbilt University in the US, was leading the expedition. He said they had been at the site two weeks without realising the extent even of the main palace buried in the jungle.

One day he was walking along the palace's highest level when he fell up to his armpits in vegetation that had filled a hidden courtyard.

"That's when I realised the entire hill was a three storey building, and we were walking along the top of the roof," Professor Demarest said.

Well preserved

Further excavations revealed that the palace is not only one of the largest and most elaborate residences of the ancient Mayan kings so far discovered but it is also one of the best preserved.

An artefact recovered from Can Cuen (National Geographic)
An artefact recovered from Can Cuen
Although the archaeological team says it will take them at least 10 years to excavate the entire city covering 13 sq km, it has already forced scholars to review their ideas about the ancient mines.

One of Guatemala's foremost authorities on deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics, Frederico Fahsen, said that most Mayan kingdoms relied on religion and warfare for their power but it seems that Can Cuen kings thrived for more than 1,000 years on commerce alone using their wealth to forge alliances with neighbours.

"Mayan cities were in a constant state of war with their structures dedicated to the Gods in heaven. Now we've discovered something exactly the opposite," Mr Fahsen said.

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